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  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen


Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Understanding Evangelion: Genesis, Anno’s Depression, and the End

Director: Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki

Cast/Voices: Megumi Ogata, Kotono Mitsuishi, Yûko Miyamura, Megumi Hayashibara

Related Animes: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gunbuster, Gundam, Macross, Patlabor

Studio: Gainax

Year: 1997

Verdict: 3.5/6


Introducing The End of Evangelion (EOE)

Neon Genesis Evangelion became an instant phenomenon when it was released in 1995. However, the season finale was controversial and left hordes of fans disappointed. This led to the making of an alternative ending, which is the film we are now about to tackle.

Many of the unanswered questions were approached, and a more elaborate conclusion was presented. Yet, the makers found room for more of the surreal elements that made the audience roar with dissatisfaction when the original ending was aired.

Was it a good idea to elaborate extensively on the original vision of the series? Yes and no. Sure, it was nice to have a few questions answered, but still, many of the larger plot points are virtually impossible to grasp without a manual.

Luckily, in this day and age, anyone can look up countless analyses and explanations online, which makes Evangelion much more accessible. Check out our review of Neon Genesis Evangelion for an introduction to the series. There you will find facts about its production process, the problems that made it stumble, and its impact on the global anime community.

Now, let’s go in-dept, and try to understand the NGE-hype:

Connecting the Dots Part 1 - The Story of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Before getting into the meaning of it all, let’s summarize the essentials of the concept: Ages ago, an alien race on the brink of destruction separated their souls from their beings. The souls were stored for safe keeping, while the beings were sent to populate livable planets. Their offspring on these planets would then become vessels for the stored souls to be put back into.

Two ships landed on earth, but according to some alien «rulebook», only one entity is allowed to populate a planet at the time. The being called «Adam» was put into hibernation, while the being called «Lilith» is the origin of all life on earth as we know it.

Some thousand years later, a human organization found the alien rulebook in the remains of the ship. This organization is called Seele. They plan to separate all human souls from their beings and join them with the soul of Lilith. This way, humans can keep controlling Earth. Naturally, the plan makes the aliens dead set on destroying Lilith and all of her offspring.

The humans also found Adam in hibernation, but their actions made him explode and destroyed all of Antarctica. The Remnants of Adam is cloned and used to make the giant Evangelion cyborgs (Evas). The Evas are used to fight the aliens who are now returning to take over the Earth.

Each Eva is infused with a particular soul, which serves as a connector between the colossal cyborgs and their pilots. The souls that are infused in the robots are directly linked to its pilots, i.e., they hail from a close relative or a clone of themselves. Therefore, each pilot can only control their designated Eva.

As it turns out, the children of Lilith are imbued with the power of knowledge, while the children of Adam have the potential for life everlasting. The aliens split them up to prevent other beings from becoming as powerful as themselves.

If digging deeper into the plot, there are plenty of story twists, melodrama, and philosophical metaphors to leave room for numerous approaches to an NGE-analyses. In this context, we will focus on the major story arc and try to understand its key implications.

What it all comes down to, is that one of the Evas (Unit 01) manages to combine and make use of the seeds from both Adam and Lilith. This gives Unit 01 godlike power and enables it to oppose Seele’s plan to fuse all human souls into a collective consciousness.

Connecting the Dots Part 2 - The Story of The End of Evangelion

As mentioned, the storyline in NGE is rife with intricate details and hidden metaphors. There is no way to explain it all without writing a tedious manual. One way to concretize what is going on, is to look at the various conflicts of interest that drives the story forward.

The first conflict is between the aliens and the humans. Both are fighting for their species to endure, and for Earth to live and prosper. Then, in-between the human groupings, there are three conflicting ideas about the future of mankind:

Seele plans to separate all human souls from their beings and unite them into a collective mind, effectively putting an end to all individuality. Another organization called NERV are helping Seele along, but the NERV commander – Shinji’s father – is planning to only elevate himself to godlike status.

These two factions are cooperating because they both want the alien threat neutralized and the Human Instrumentality Project engaged. Then there is Yui – Shinji’s mother – whose soul is trapped in Unit 01. She disagrees with both Seele and NERV and appears to be fighting to save the souls of mankind. (Her intentions are far from clear though.)

In End of Evangelion we learn that the Human Instrumentality Project was set in motion, and all human souls are separated from their being. Shinji and Asuka are left alone on the planet, faced with the question if all mankind’s souls should be merged or not.

When battling his inner demons, Shinji was the one who first engaged the separation of mankind from its souls. After some soul-searching in himself, however, Shinji appears to realize that battling pain and fear is the key to individual growth. Our ability to embrace and overcome our flaws is what makes mankind worth saving.

Shinji’s final actions seem to indicate that all mankind will be reborn in new vessels sometime in the future. Other interpretations of EOE have concluded that Shinji had glimpses of bad conscience, but ultimately got consumed by self-loathing and let humankind perish.

And these are just the implications within the Evangelion-universe. When we see Shinji and Asuka alone on a lifeless planet Earth, the questions about the messages of Evangelion becomes as pressing as the narrative labyrinth we have just passed through.

Overthinking Evangelion

It’s almost eerie to consider the word «evangelion» – meaning «gospel» – in the context of NGE. Like the most famous gospel in history, Evangelion has been scrutinized and written about at length. The community built around this show are so dedicated and opinionated that the parallels to religious cults are pretty close.

The psychological factor in NGE has been approached from many angles. Some talk about teenage angst and the painful transition into adulthood. Others criticize the hypocritical view on adolescent sexuality, whose clumsy innocence is openly discussed on the one hand, and shamelessly exploited on the other.

Countless images of naked teenage girls, bucketloads of biblical references, or myriads of hints to pop psychology are only the top layers of NGE, though. Many online analyses are discussing these topics, most of which seem peripheral when investigating Anno’s state of mind when making Evangelion. We’ll get back to that in the next section.

To understand Anno’s mindset, it is useful to first consider some of the larger philosophical ideas that influenced the more personal aspects of his writing for NGE. Doctor of Philosophy – Konstantin Reyhert – underlines the epic proportions of Evangelion in his analyses:

Literally, the whole title … can be interpreted as …

«The good message about new creation» or «The Gospel of new creation»

Konstantin Reyhert

Reyhert explains that the title is made from the old Greek words «Νεον γενεσις ευαγγελιον». «Γενεσις» or Genesis refers to the creation of the world by God, as told in the Old Testament. «Eυαγγελιον» refers to the New Testament and is interpreted as «good news/message».

He boils down his analyses to a more grounded, and often recurring theme in anime and manga: Fear of technology. Life on Earth began by chance, but it might very well be ended by our never-ending search for the purpose and meaning of life.

As such, Evangelion is a comment on human scientific curiosity, caused by our desire to be freed from feelings of solitude and incoherence, as well as our reliance on the opinions of others. As Reyhert states: «A criticism of the extreme enthusiasm of mankind about science and technology and the Japanese collectivism.»

Evangelion Explained in Light of Hideaki Anno’s Soul-Searching Journey

It is well-known that Hideaki Anno was struggling with mental problems when making NGE. During his depression, he got heavily into psychology and theology. These studies were cathartic to him and influenced his anime production on many levels.

The many hints to pop psychology and religious iconography are the tools he used to underline his major overarching message: To move forward in life, you need to sort out who you are and accept your place in life.

Anno brought his personal demons to life in Evangelion. He was on a personal journey when he was making the show. The characters he created overcame their issues and developed in tandem with himself.

«Evangelion is my life and I have put everything I know into this work.

This is my entire life. My life itself.»

– Hideaki Anno –

In many ways, Evangelion is all about identity. The protagonists fear their real identities, and the ugliness that might hide behind their outer shell. They also have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that identities are not static, but continuously develop over time.

To face his real identity, Shinji needs to reject the identities constructed by society and by his family bonds. Not the least, he must reject the identity he has created himself, based on what he believed would please the world around him.

Part of Shinji’s true self came to surface when he engaged the Human Instrumentality Project. Instead of embracing it, he rejects the frightening powers that lies within himself. He hides behind a mask of cowardliness, not realizing that power can be channeled as he please, if only he accepts who he is and the responsibility he has been given.

Evangelion might very well be a comment on Japanese collectivism and technological fear. Identities might be more severely enforced in Japan, which in turn makes it tougher to break free from constructed identities. But the issue of accepting yourself, and to take responsibility for your own actions, are universal.

The underlying philosophical questions in Evangelion are basic, yet infinitely complex. They are personal, yet they concern us all. Most importantly, the issues at hand are timeless. They have been discussed in ancient gospels before us, just as Anno approached them via sci-fi anime. Perhaps the timelessness of the topics is the reason why NGE never ceases to engage?

Did The End of Evangelion Really Solve Anything?

To be blunt, one of the biggest problems with End of Evangelion is that it didn’t really explain the unanswered questions from the series. Instead, it elaborated on the story and the events that happened right after NGE.

One key difference from the series, however, is Shinji’s attitude towards the Human Instrumentality Project. In the series, he appeared to accept the project. In End of Evangelion he rejects it, and by doing so, accepts his own humanity instead.

On a more positive note, EOE didn’t take anything away from the Evangelion experience, it rather fed our hunger for more. Perhaps it didn’t solve much, but the storytelling was more concise, the action was better, and the atmosphere was both eerier and more accessible.

An interesting point brought up by Chris Lambert at Colossus is that the focus shifted in End of Evangelion. Whereas NGE dealt with identity crisis, EOE dealt with feelings of loneliness. All the characters struggle with feelings of solitude.

Brought to the brink of madness by feelings of extreme isolation,

the idea of a collective consciousness sounds strangely comforting.

– JCA –

Towards the end of EOE, Shinji still has not come to term with his own identity. When sitting on the beach, next to Asuka, he still confuses dreams and reality. He feels both responsible and disgusted with himself. He hates, and he loves.

Anno didn’t as much answer our questions (prayers?) as he offered us a speck of hope. When Shinji unleashed all his self-loathing onto Asuka, she replied with a single motion of affection, a gentle hand on his cheek, before calling him «disgusting».

The world is dying, and the final being hides behind a wall of hatred. His last victim both pity and judge him. In his denial, he is offered a final wake-up call. Perhaps the message is that we all need to take a good look in the mirror. Who are we to judge if we cannot even realize and accept who we are ourselves?

Why Should you Watch The End of Evangelion?

There is an inexplicable allure to the surreal atmosphere of both the original NGE-ending and – to a lesser extent – End of Evangelion. It doesn’t really matter if the idea behind it can be fully explained or not.

Room for interpretation and lots of unsaid details are after all a time-honored characteristic of many classic animes. These are arguably the things that made people re-watch Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) till their eyes bled.

Yours truly never did experience the same aversion to the original NGE-ending as many die-hard fans of the series. Sure, it was a stretch to save loads of surreal sequences for a brain-twisting final blow. Had the ending been better integrated with the remaining episodes, it would probably have worked just fine.

Check my review on Neon Genesis Evangelion for more info about the controversial ending.

The best reason to watch End of Evangelion is that it provides more of the best stuff from the series. The pompous dialogue from the original ending is toned down, while some of the most spectacular animations and fight sequences of the entire show is added.

End of Evangelion still feels somewhat pretentious, but at least it is possible to wrap your head around the plot without having to rewind, pause and contemplate every sentence. In other words, what it lacks in elaborations on missing plot points, it more than makes up for with a heightened level of entertainment value.

Final Verdict for The End of Evangelion

Both Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion had their flaws, but at the same time they had charm. At its worst, the Evangelion saga can be excruciatingly tedious. At its best, it is a mandatory curriculum for all fans of anime and sci-fi.

For those of you who are getting into the series for the first time, the movie should not be forgotten, but preferably follow directly after NGE. If you enjoyed the series, there is very little chance that End of Evangelion will disappoint, especially if digging into the background of the production and its maker.

When making Evangelion, Hideaki Anno struggled with a kind of psychological stress that most people must deal with at some point in life. He came to the realization that we must accept our flaws to find our strengths. Only then can we hope to achieve some sense of inner peace.

Escapism is a trap door leading into seemingly meaningful worlds of research, entertainment, or even overanalyzed anime series. Reality is faced when the trap door is shut, and our own identity is welcomed out in the open.

Only when finding our true self will we be free to make our own choices in life, whether they are to aid the survival of mankind, or plant our butts on the couch and do nothing else than watch Neon Genesis Evangelion one more time.


Gladstein, Scott: Evangelion - Explained

PS: At the moment NGE is available on Netflix. Anime lovers rejoice!

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